As digital marketing becomes more sophisticated, businesses are expecting more return on investment from the money that they pour into their advertising budgets. Digital marketing is held to a higher standard than traditional marketing when it comes to measurement accountability, successful advertising and conversion rates. This is due in part to the technological advances in the creation and management of content, the growth of demand-side platforms (DSP), and the ability to automate the delivery of relevant ads based on specific sub-segments of a brand’s audience.
One of the most scrutinized aspects of the digital-marketing lifecycle is the concept of ad viewability. Ad viewability refers to the successful placement of an advertisement that is deemed to be served in the visible space of that user during his or her online experience. While this may appear to be a simple concept, the actual measurement of ad viewability — and what it means both to the businesses relying on it and the companies that are paid to achieve it — is much more complicated. There’s a delicate economic balance to strike between supply and demand and viewability to properly manage your media investment. With inventory and attribution in mind, marketers should be striving toward a solution rooted in digital attribution and marketing economic factors to identify the proper viewability definition and threshold to use for optimal performance.
The Inventory Problem
One major problem that ad viewability poses to digital marketers is with inventory. What this refers to is paying for ad placements that are never actually seen by the consumer. These ads may be placed off of the page, either partially or completely, or they may be buried under browser windows that are not in the active frame of the user’s computer, amongst many other potential causes. There needs to be a standardized way to measure viewability as a whole, and there are several aspects to this measurement process that can affect what is deemed a successful strategy.
One difficulty with measuring viewability is that there are several methodologies, including the browser-geometric method and statistical-analysis solutions. Because there are numerous ways to try to measure viewability, there are many businesses today that offer this type of analysis as a service — each based on different combinations of measuring philosophies, and each having different standards of measurement attempting to solve for measurement limitations to the best of their abilities.
Another hurdle in measuring viewability is that there are differing perceptions of what the definition of a viewable ad should be, including a general feeling that the current industry standar definition from the IAB is overly restrictive and too binary. The current definition is often defined as 50 percent of an ad being in view for at least one second. However, more and more brands and publishers alike are rightfully demanding a more dynamic measurement approach in which a partially viewed ad should receive some sort of fractional viewability credit. In this sense, the definition of what is viewable is still in flux, and until a true standard is set and adopted, inventory owners and advertisers need to agree upon and take action on meeting a reasonable threshold of viewability with minimal risk to rising prices due to a disrupted supply and demand balance. As more and more advertisers are demanding viewable inventory, there will be more demand for less supply.
The Attribution Problem
Another complication surrounding digital-marketing ad viewability is with attribution. What this means is that, not only are digital marketers paying for ads that were never seen, but also optimizing towards them within their attribution platforms. This can cause all sorts of problems as automated-optimization algorithms rely on real-time data to make the next decision regarding which ads to place in front of which customers. False data skews these results and can cause marketers to optimize towards media that was never seen and therefore had no influence on the end user.
One way to address this problem is to look at the granularity with which ad viewability is measured. In general, the standard approach to measuring viewability is at the lowest level in the ad-server hierarchy, which could be seen as being at either the ad or creative level. But attribution is applied at a more granular level – the user exposure level, otherwise known as the cookie level. In order for marketers to properly account for out-of-view ads in their attribution, they must measure it at the most granular level in order for attribution platforms to identify impressions with influence potential vs. impressions that had no influence (out-of-view).
Now, it cannot be expected that 100 percent of your ads will be viewable, so focusing on increasing viewability — while it will help — will never completely solve the problem. The important thing is to understand which ads were viewed, and more importantly, which ads were not. This can be achieved by measuring viewability at the cookie level, which not only improves attribution and optimization, but also reduces the effect of the inventory problem as well.
Protecting Your Media Investment
The question then becomes, “What steps can I take to mitigate the issues caused by the inventory and attribution problems and protect my media investment?” The first step is to ensure that your ad viewability — however it is defined — is being measured accurately. Businesses should be sure to employ an unbiased, third-party, viewability-measurement partner. There are many ad-verification companies in the marketplace that will measure the viewability of all the ads served on your behalf, and they can give you a true understanding of how viewable your content really is.
Next, make sure to establish a minimum-viewability threshold to be met by all of your media partners or inventory owners whom you are working with. Regardless of what this threshold is, make sure it is being met, and if it is not, hold them contractually obligated to continue pushing your content in the viewable space until they meet that threshold. This accountability helps to avoid fraudulent counting of views and ensures your optimization efforts are based on real data.
Finally, ensure the data you’re feeding into your attribution is happening at the most granular level possible. Make sure ad viewability is one of the factors that are captured to ensure that non-viewable ads are not given credit as viewable. This also allows you to enhance attribution by incorporating viewability measurement into that attribution, permitting you to identify the touches that should be excluded from your optimization process. Also, do your best to leverage the DSPs that that have pre-bid viewability-determination technology. This is the ability to determine the likelihood of an ad’s viewability and whether it is going to be in the viewable space or not. That can also go a long way toward increasing your viewability and protecting your media investment in the long run.
Marketers need to solve for both problems to reduce the negative impacts the viewability has. Taking steps to address the attribution problem can help you identify the right blend of seconds viewed and % of ad viewed to use as your own custom Viewability definition for your business. When combined with the right viewability threshold, you’ll take a very strong step towards identifying an optimal point to operate in.